Randle El demolishes Minnesota

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — As the final seconds ticked off the clock in Minnesota’s 51-43 loss to Indiana on Saturday, the scoreboard at Memorial Stadium said it all.
No, the score wasn’t what lit up the brightest — but rather 15 feet lower on the board where the offensive statistics for each team were listed.
Next to the Hoosiers the board read: Total offense — 611 yards.
For Minnesota, it was surely viewed as 911.
Indiana’s offense, led by junior all-everything quarterback Antwaan Randle El, victimized the Gophers defense on the ground and in the air for 60 straight minutes, doing everything to Minnesota but call an ambulance.
“We were kept off balance,” Gophers coach Glen Mason said after the loss which all but eliminated his team’s Rose Bowl hopes. “They had an answer for everything we were trying to do.”
Randle El looked like a pinball out on the field — sometimes spinning off would-be tacklers like they were bumpers, other times shooting through holes like he was blasted by the flippers.
This time, Randle El rushed for a career high 210 yards on 27 carries and a pair of touchdowns. He also was 12 for 21 in the passing game, throwing for 263 yards and another two touchdowns.
“Needless to say, he had a career day against us,” Mason said.
“That’s the best player I’ve ever played against in my life,” Minnesota (5-3, 3-2 Big Ten) defensive end Karon Riley said. “He’s exceptional.”
Randle El and the Hoosiers (3-4, 2-2) offensive game plan appeared to be pretty simple. Run the option, run the option, mix in a long pass, then run the option some more.
Stopping the attack, however, was anything but simple.
After receiving the opening kick, Indiana set the tone by running the option on its first three plays.
With everything clicking, the Hoosiers scored on four of their first five possessions to race out to a 24-6 lead midway through the second quarter.
“It looked like we were going to be out of it at halftime,” Mason said. “But we got going and made a game of it.”
Indiana’s offense wasn’t the surprise early on. Instead, it was the lack of production from the Gophers. Facing the Big Ten’s worst defense statistically (479.2 yards per game), Minnesota was slow out of the gate.
In the first half, the Gophers were 0 for 3 in the red zone, twice missing opportunities to punch it in from inside Indiana’s three-yard line. The end result — three Dan Nystrom field goals.
It took Minnesota almost the entire half to finally start plucking apart Indiana. After the Hoosiers took the 18 point-lead, Minnesota responded on its next play from scrimmage.
Quarterback Travis Cole hooked up with wide receiver Ron Johnson on an 82-yard touchdown pass, the longest of Johnson’s career.
To start the third quarter, wide receiver Jermaine Mays broke a 100-yard return for a touchdown and the Gophers cut the Hoosiers lead to two.
After an Indiana three and out, Minnesota put together another drive, this time capitalizing inside the five with a four-yard Cole touchdown run.
As all the momentum seemed to be on Minnesota’s sideline, and the crowd of 30,882 sighed as if to say “here we go again,” Randle El and the option went back to work.
Indiana put together a pair of quick touchdown drives — three and six plays, respectively — putting the game away.
“We have the kind of offense that is explosive; get out and get going,” Randle El said.
Late in the game, with his red jersey and white ##11 followed like a fugitive on the run, the Indiana student section bowed to Randle El like he was a savior.
A savior for them and a nightmare for the Gophers.
The Gophers defense had by far their worst showing of the season. After giving up just 43 total points the past three weeks, Minnesota never found a cure for Randle El.
Only twice was the junior caught for a loss of yardage, once on a sack.
“Their option offense is going to spawn big plays all day,” Riley said. “We gave them too many opportunities.”
Although it’s hard to place any blame on an offense which gained 475 yards and put 43 points on the board, Minnesota had several chances to score as many as 60.
The three missed touchdowns in the first half, combined with two Cole turnovers (an interception and a fumble) late in the fourth gave Indiana the necessary ingredients for a Homecoming win.
“If you score 43 points you should win,” said Cole, who finished with a career high 286 yards in the air on 20 of 32, also both career highs.
“If someone had told me we were going score 43 points and lose, we wouldn’t have believed it,” said Johnson, who also had a career high 177 yards receiving.
After a late Gophers touchdown run by backup quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq cut the Hoosiers lead to eight, Minnesota had one last chance to get the ball back.
But the onside kick never took a Gophers bounce and was fittingly recovered by an Indiana player.
Who, you ask. Who else?
Antwaan Randle El.

John R. Carter covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]